Palestinian Studies

2023 Workshop

Faiq Mari

Ph.D. candidate, ETH Zürich

Alternative Spaces of Revolt: the Commons of Palestinian Liberation Struggle

In the West Bank of the 2010s several economic initiatives of collective labor and property emerged. They came to call themselves cooperatives. This paper argues that these cooperatives act as simultaneously political and economic institutions, responding to the conditions of settler colonization in Palestine in the last two decades. Furthermore, they build upon a heritage of thought and mobilization around collectivity in the Palestinian revolutionary movement. This paper situates these cooperatives both in their contemporary context and their historical lineage along Palestinian revolutionary struggle.  

The West Bank in the last two decades has been marked by de-development, proletarianization,  political repression, and a decline of radical political mobilization—in a confluence of Zionist colonial and Palestinian Authority policies. These phenomena have produced youth that are doubly alienated. Economically, the majority contends with either unemployment or alienating precarious jobs in the colonial and Palestinian labor markets. Politically, they have few channels to influence Palestinian politics and face harsh repression when attempting to mobilize anticolonial or socioeconomic resistance. Dispossession, proletarianization, and de-development of the agricultural sector also generated fallow lands in the countryside. 

Those same lands offered a margin of operation for left-leaning youth who believed in the imbrication of capitalism in their colonial condition. They utilized the lands to found an alternative economy as both a source of livelihood and a means to organize and broach the political horizon.  On the one hand, this return to agriculture reflected economic imperatives, attested to by the general rise in agriculture and collective forms of labor in the WB around the same period. This mirrors a frequently observed pattern within Palestinian political economy whereby agriculture has acted as a fallback economic activity at times of crisis. On the other, both the concern for agriculture and the collective form it assumes in those cooperatives correspond to a long lineage of thought and mobilization around collectivity that Palestinian political actors have espoused, particularly on the left—expressed through different notions such as sumūd, volunteerism, and resistance economy. 

Indeed, the cooperatives that this paper studies show both direct and indirect links to this heritage and its own influences: from references to the socialist goals of leftist PLO parties in the fida’i decades, to an inspiration from First Intifada collectives, the writings and lectures of local activists such as Adel Samara, and more recently to the literature of Resistance Economy and the writings of martyr Bassel al-Araj. Furthermore, most founding members of those cooperatives came of age at rural civil society institutions tied to leftist PLO parties, many of which were led by cadres who had been involved in the volunteer movement and the collectives of the First Intifada. 

But apart from Palestinian revolutionary heritage these cooperatives show contemporary global influences, from liberal conceptions of cooperativism to radical agroecology, mediated through local and international NGOs operating in the West Bank—such as the La Via Campesina movement, locally based at the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Workers’ Committees (UAWC). 

This paper studies this group of political actors as they toil to conceptualize the capital-colonial nexus in Palestine and respond to it in cooperative practice. It locates the rising cooperative phenomenon within the Palestinian revolutionary tradition, and contextualizes it in the political and economic architecture of the West Bank today. By doing so, and while focusing on the past two decades, this paper highlights the transformations of thought and practice around collective labor and property since the sixties as constitutive and expressive of the transformations of the Palestinian left, and the Palestinian revolutionary movement more generally, in relation to local and global conditions—such as the founding of the PA, the Arab Spring, and the growing radical rural movements at this time of planetary crisis of capitalism.

Faiq Mari is an architect, educator, and researcher. Faiq’s work studies the spatiality of Zionist colonialism in Palestine, as well as Palestinian anticolonial and socioeconomic struggle. His current research focus is the concept of masha’ and collectivity in labor and property within Palestinian liberation struggle. Faiq is a doctoral candidate at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta) at ETH Zürich, and is currently a visiting research fellow at Brown CMES. He is an editor of the magazine Arab Urbanism. Prior to joining the gta Faiq practiced architecture and taught at Birzeit and Al-Quds universities in Palestine. He holds a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering from Birzeit University and a master’s degree in architecture history and theory from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he was a Fulbright scholar.